ALWAYS ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

Earlier this year, I updated the cover and tweaked the contents of my novel Hometown News.

I liked the new image, of a house on fire rather than one of a girl in autumn leaves. The story is, after all, about a community in crisis rather than the delights of living in idyllic repose.

The new image, however, challenged the use of placing the book title and author. The colors jump all over the place, and I just couldn’t figure out a way to drop the words in effectively. Well, you can see what I did. Still, I felt ambivalent about the results.

And then, a few weeks ago, I was looking at my revised lineup at Smashwords and sensed this one just didn’t quite match the style or tone of the others. Time for a few tweaks.

So here’s what we have now:

Hometown News

After this:

Hometown News

Which replaced this one:

Hometown News

The covers of my Smashwords editions originally paid homage to Richard Brautigan’s classic books of the ’60s, each of which had a portrait of a pretty young woman.

Any reactions?

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SOMETHING MORE COMPELLING

Looking at my new lineup at Smashwords, I felt one cover just didn’t match.

The first round of my editions there had covers that were an homage to Richard Brautigan’s classic books of the ’60s, each of which had a portrait of a pretty young woman.

As I looked at the cover image, though, it felt dated. Looking closer, I realized it also didn’t reflect the edginess of the contents. I wanted something more compelling than a woman in quiet reflection.

So here’s what we have now:

Blue Rock

Rather than this:

Blue Rock

Whaddya think? For more, go to Blue Rock.

GIVE THE DAUGHTER HER DUE

My latest round of revising my fiction has felt somehow different from my previous encounters.

Well, I would include the round with What’s Left last fall, so maybe I can blame Cassia for my new experience. That novel, however, was always envisioned as a much less experimental work than my previous efforts.

The latest efforts have included deep cuts, including major sections I was quite fond of, and changing the tone. But these also meant creating page after page of new material, especially details to develop side characters more fully. Not just what they’re thinking, either, but rather what they’re feeling.

Much of my personal writing has functioned as an exercise to counter the dumbing-down editing required in the newspaper work that provided my income. You know, tone it down to what used to be seen as sixth-grade reading level.

Not just newspapers, either. I see too much pedestrian prose posing as literature and know language can have much more vitality and depth than that, thank you. Harry Potter, at least, has proven that many sixth-graders can read at much more advanced levels than they’re given credit for.

One thing, though. Five years after leaving the newsroom, I no longer feel that dumbing-down struggle as I write and revise, nor do I have to work my own writing into small blocks of time between everything else.

What I am surprised to see, though, is how much of the journalism influence was at work in the just-the-facts approach to my stories. I’ve seen much of my work – both poetry and fiction – as a kind of on-the-run graffiti, jazzlike, with an improvisatory tone and jagged edge. Daily journalism, for that matter, is typically done under deadline. Essentially, I saw the flow of clashing events as the core of the tale.

The biggest change in the recent revision has been the focus on the characters – and especially their feelings. Remember, in journalism, the only feelings would be through direct quotes. Anything else would be editorializing, not that you’d know in what passes for broadcast journalism on most American television stations these days.

Again, I’m going to credit my character Cassia for much of my shift. She’s having me examine that earlier work through her eyes as well as her voice.

In recasting her father’s backstory, for example, I’ve been continuing the present-tense emphasis as much as possible, with a more conversational tone than the conventional literary past-tense would carry. How would she feel about this or that development?

Oh, yes, one more thing. With her, it shouldn’t sound literary. She’s talking, remember?

The emotional element, though, has engulfed me. Engaging the characters on this level has consumed much of my time and thought, including my nights abed or my time on the treadmill or stationary bike during cardio therapy. It’s made for much slower going on my part as far as the revisions progressed. But it’s also led to a much more complete comprehension of the evolving story.

In the end, I’m hoping these move readers in ways the earlier ones didn’t.

WHEN THE DAUGHTER TAKES OVER

When I wrote the four novels that formed my Hippie Trails series, Cassia was nowhere in sight.

But now that she’s taken center stage in What’s Left, she’s changed my perspective on those earlier novels. Quite simply, I’ve revised them to bring them more into line with her story. Drastically revised them, in fact – deep cuts, offset by new material.

Quite simply, they’re now her discovery of her father and his era rather than mine. Having a character take over a book is rather eerie, actually, especially when she’s livelier and more interesting and more critical than I’d be. Moreover, she wasn’t even present in those earlier works – they’re all before her birth. Before she was even conceived, as it were.

That hasn’t stopped her from pushing for more extensive revisions than I had anticipated. Not only are the novels all retitled – and two are even compressed into one – but many of the characters are renamed, a few new figures are introduced, and hefty cuts are offset by rich new detail and restructured storylines.

So what we have now is Daffodil Uprising, Pit-a-Pat High Jinks, and Subway Visions. And the series they form with What’s Left is no longer Hippie Trails but Freakin’ Free Spirits.

Well, quite simply, my wife hates the word “hippie,” says too often these days it translates as “loser” or “lame,” and I wanted something that might fit bohemians over time … in this case from Cassia’s Greek great-grandparents right down to today.

By the way, I’m still blaming Cassia for my putting so much else aside in the past five months. She just wouldn’t shut up, and she can be quite bossy. Admittedly, though, I’m much happier with the novels as they’ve evolved and finally emerged. Let’s hope she is, too.

As for you and other readers? That’s the real question.

 

MY LIFE AS A ROGUE, AS IT WERE

Being born in Aquarius, maybe it’s all too natural:

  1. Rogue scout troop (with all of our hiking, backpacking, and primitive camping – plus all the scoutmaster’s strictness).
  2. Rogue education, a patchwork of political science, literature, economics, sides of philosophy while aiming for the field of daily journalism.
  3. Rogue hippie.
  4. Rogue lover.
  5. Rogue ashram, with its decision to quit the world I’d known up till then.
  6. Rogue worship (this alternative Christianity).
  7. Rogue Quaker, too?
  8. Rogue career, mostly in out-of-the-way settings before abandoning the executive ladder to return to the ranks and a real life.
  9. Rogue poet, rogue novelist.
  10. Rogue blogger.

Maybe it makes sense.

~*~

Just how don’t you fit into expectations?

In open water on the Piscataqua River, Newington, New Hampshire.

Not that this fits into the theme, it’s just one more thing on my mind.

CLOCKING THE FORECAST

YES, EVERYBODY TALKS about the weather. I’m no exception, and I usually enjoy the exchange. But I also listen with a grain of salt. To take a longer view and talk about the seasons, however, is another matter – one heightened in recent years by concerns about climatic upheaval and global warming. Living as I have in various locales in a band across the northern half of the United States, I’ve come to appreciate a wide seasonal ebb and flow. Deep snowfall and subzero spells, crackling and booming thunderstorms, an extended spring – I’m not one for the monotonous sunshine of Florida or southern California. I want to be jolted and moved, with all the accompanying influence on my emotions and thinking. There are seasons for curling up late at night with a book; others for reading on the beach or under the trees. Times for shoveling snow or cross-country skiing; times for raking leaves and mulching. Each new place has meant adjusting my expectations and observing fine differences from what I had previously encountered. All this, before dealing directly with the variations from one year to another within a specific place.

Over the years, the repetition adds up to knowledge and expectation. As the winter solstice observations of Christmas and New Year’s, there’s anticipation before ordering garden seeds in January and bringing the grow lights up from the cellar so you may start the seedlings. Having the cross country boots and skis ready. Keeping an eye on the pussy willows, to collect their sprigs. Planting, harvesting, cooking, sharing, and preserving. There’s the anticipation of the sequence of flowers or garden produce, each to be savored in its moment. From asparagus, snow peas, and strawberries through to potatoes, garlic, and leaks. From snow lilies, forsythia, and crocus through to asters and Jerusalem artichokes. Ordering firewood early, so it will season properly. Calling the chimney sweep and annual furnace checkup. Making room in the compost bins for October leaves. Trimming the hedges. And that’s just from a homeowner’s and urban gardener’s perspective. Normally, I wouldn’t be writing in July – my attic workspace simply becomes too stuffy, but this year’s an exception. There are other fronts. We’ve brewed ales in late autumn and lagers in deep winter, to take advantage of the favored requirements of each yeast. There’s also the seasonal flow of paying taxes and insurance, registering the car, taking a vacation, enjoying holidays. We also see academic years, baseball and football seasons, opera and symphony seasons, television seasons. There are many more, of course, as you start looking.

The challenge comes in not falling behind, but to instead preparing for the next stage. Here come the tomatoes, here comes the sweet corn. Pace yourself for the playoffs. Budget accordingly.

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